Ranking the top 5 SEC football-basketball coaching duos who I'd want to hire as an athletic director
Yes, there are more important things going on than sports right now.
My intent today is not to downplay the significance of that. But what I would like to do is to help you, person who needs an escape with some good old-fashioned sports debate. So, maybe for the next 6-8 minutes, you can join me in doing that.
My focus is to rank the basketball-football coach combos who I’d want running my teams if I were an athletic director right now. It’s a fascinating question that factors in what I believe a coach’s potential to be in both sports. That’s an important caveat. This isn’t strictly résumé of past accomplishments. This is about right now and how they project moving forward.
Longevity, stability and program ceiling is factored into the equation. And yes, basketball and football are weighed 50-50 here. That can absolutely impact a rating for a coach.
Here are my top 5 in the SEC:
5. Nick Saban and Nate Oats, Alabama
Obviously this is mostly Saban doing the heavy lifting. Some would say “well I’d just take Saban No. 1 so that I can be good at football.” I’m treating this like it’s a true 50-50 split. So yes, the greatest college football coach ever is always going to make a ranking of the top coaches I’d want.
For what it’s worth, I don’t care if that’s only for another 3-4 years, either. If you could have 3 years of Saban running your program, you would, too.
And while Oats wasn’t in line to earn an NCAA Tournament bid in Year 1 in Tuscaloosa, he wasn’t a slouch at Buffalo. He won an NCAA Tournament game in consecutive years and made the field 3 of 4 times there. Again, at Buffalo. Give the man some respect.
Oats was probably an NCAA Tournament bid away from moving the Alabama duo into the top 3 on this list.
4. Dan Mullen and Mike White, Florida
This one is tricky. I’m a Mullen believer and I tend to think that while White absolutely disappointed in 2019-20, he hasn’t been quite as bad as some Florida fans think (among SEC teams only Auburn and Kentucky have more total wins than Florida since White arrived). He did, however, follow Bill Donovan. And yes, I understand the reason his lack of upside has Gator fans worried about the future.
Still, if you’re asking me who I’d want to inherit as an athletic director, you could do much worse than White. He has proven to be an exceptional recruiter, and it’s not like Florida was a bad SEC team. The Gators were in position to win 20 games for the 5th time in as many seasons under White.
Mullen is the main reason that Florida is worth a spot here. The first coach to win New Year’s 6/BCS Bowls in each of his first 2 seasons on the job is now in position to take another step. Mullen’s consecutive years of double-digit wins didn’t include a Georgia win or a division title, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted. In terms of Xs and Os head coaches, few in the sport are better right now.
Since Urban Meyer left after the 2010 season, you could make the case that Florida is in the best shape it has been in with this duo.
3. Ed Orgeron and Will Wade, LSU
If this list were strictly based on wins and losses, LSU might belong at No. 1. The combination of a coach who just delivered the best season in college football history alongside the guy who was set to have LSU in the NCAA Tournament for consecutive years for the first time since 2006 is, by all accounts, a solid duo.
Here’s the thing, though.
If I’m an athletic director, the baggage that came along with Wade’s FBI wiretap has to be taken into account. Even though he kept his job after he was suspended during the investigation, he brought plenty of negative attention to the university. If I’m an athletic director, I’m not crazy about inheriting a coach who could put my job on the line.
As for Orgeron, well, if he’s not among someone’s top-5 coaches in all of college football right now, I don’t know what they’re thinking. The guy cranks out wins vs. top-10 teams like they’re going out of style. And fortunately for LSU, he’s going to in Baton Rouge as long as they’ll have him. You know, assuming he doesn’t run for president.
From now on, every national public service announcement should come from Dr. Anthony Fauci and Ed Orgeron. That’s the 1-2 punch we need to defeat coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/d0aOeWu9yY
— Michael Kelly (@MichaelLKelly) March 14, 2020
Go back and tell 2016 LSU fan that by the end of the decade, the football program would win a national title and the basketball program would compete for an SEC crown in consecutive years. They wouldn’t have believed you.
2. Jimbo Fisher and Buzz Williams, Texas A&M
This might come as a surprise, but I’m not big on inheriting $75 million guaranteed contracts to head coaches. We’re living in a world in which Fisher has $60 million (!) guaranteed left on that deal. If he doesn’t get the Aggies to a New Year’s 6 Bowl with that schedule in 2020, I’d have some sleepless nights about that.
So why is this duo at No. 2? A couple of reasons.
For starters, I think Fisher’s floor at A&M is 2019. Is his floor much higher than Kevin Sumlin’s was? Not really, but the ceiling is to be determined. There’s a reason that A&M made that fake championship plaque for Fisher. If he even gets A&M to the Playoff, he’ll be considered worth that money. That’s still a huge “if.”
A lot of this ranking is based on my belief that Williams is an outstanding coach who will have the Aggies competing at an Auburn-like level soon. I wish we could have seen his team play in the SEC Tournament because I thought they could have made a run to the title game. That’s how well they closed the regular season. Remember, that team was picked to finish 12th in the league and was under the impression that T.J. Starks would be playing.
If I’m an AD walking into that situation, I don’t feel like they’re in any hurry to leave, either. Say what you want about Scott Woodward and the way he left for LSU, but he made major financial commitments to hire a pair of proven coaches who, in my opinion, are among the best in the country.
With the hiring of Buzz Williams at Texas A&M coupled with Jimbo Fisher in football, it’s worth remembering the wizard behind the curtain. He is Scott Woodward – who is now easily in the front row among the preeminent athletic directors in the nation.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) April 3, 2019
And unlike Wade at LSU, they haven’t brought on negative attention of an FBI investigation.
1. Mark Stoops and John Calipari, Kentucky
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — Stoops is a top-15 coach nationally. If you don’t believe that, perhaps you missed the past 4 years when he brought Kentucky’s floor up to a place that few thought it would ever be. The Cats started a receiver at quarterback for the majority of last season and won 8 games. I mean, you could make a case that what he did in 2019 was more impressive than what he did in 2018 when he delivered the program’s best season in 40 years.
There’s another caveat that makes Stoops all the more attractive to inherit. The Kentucky coach just turned down Florida State. Go back to 2013 when FSU won a national title and Stoops was 2-10 and 0-8 in SEC play in Year 1 in Lexington. That’s how far Stoops has come, and that’s why what he’s built is special.
Calipari might frustrate some fans with just having the 1 ring, but if you could have told Kentucky fans 10 years ago that their team would make 7 trips to the Elite 8 during the 2010s — and 4 to the Final 4 — I think they’d still gladly take it.
Stoops and Calipari also have incredible support from the athletic department, and they rewarded UK for it by staying when they easily could have left. Both took over their respective programs when they were at an extremely vulnerable point in their history, and now, both have the making of UK lifers.
Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart is a blessed individual.